I’ve moved my blog!

Thanks to the Fischer Aviation folks who’ve set the blog up for me, I started recapping my lessons and writing about aviation and my experiences as a student pilot.  I’ve enjoyed the process so much that I’ve decided to host the content myself.

I’m moving the blog to fly.noahks.com.  See you there!

Atlantic City (KACY) flight with Matt

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

If you’re a regular reader you know my friend Matt already has his pilot’s license.  He’s in the Paramus Flying Club and had to do a “club checkride” per their bylaws so that he can fly the club planes by himself.  

This past Sunday (May 18) he completed his club checkride and afterwards we had a flight planned to Atlantic City International Airport (KACY) as a celebration!

This is a rough plot of the course that we flew from Linden to Atlantic City. Source: SkyVector

We left from Linden Airport (KLDJ) at around 4pm.  The weather was still great from the day before, with only some scattered clouds around 7000 or so.  We left Linden to the southwest and flew around the 1500 ft shelf jut-out of the New York Bravo and then headed for the NJ coastline.  We flew south along the coast, diligently looking for traffic while enjoying the sights.  Before long we had Atlantic City in sight, and when we looked inland we saw a huge open field–the airport!  It’s hard to see the actual runways from 10 or so miles away, but the airport is unmistakable.

We contacted Atlantic City Approach about 19 miles out, but they said our radio communications were breaking up and could only hear us clearly around 14 miles out.  We continued inbound, reported when we “had the airport” (meaning that we had the airport in sight), and then did a 45 into the left downwind for runway 13.

Atlantic City services commercial traffic, and as a result Runway 13 is tremendous–10,000 ft long and 150 ft wide.  After landing we had to taxi quite a bit on the runway just to get taxiway Alpha.  From there we took Bravo-Papa-November to Landmark Aviation and they helped us park and secure the plane.

Part of the airport diagram for KACY.

We hung out in the FBO for a bit while they refueled our plane.  It was a great FBO with great service.  Matt asked for some ice to make iced coffee and the girl brought out an entire bag of ice!  After our plane was topped off with fuel Matt called the briefer (1-800-WX-BRIEF) to get a standard briefing for our flight back to Linden.

Matt talking to the briefer at Landmark Aviation (the FBO at KACY).

Matt talking to the briefer at Landmark Aviation (the FBO at KACY).

After doing a quick pre-flight again and starting the engine, we called up Atlantic City Ground.  It turns out that at Charlie and Bravo airports you’re supposed to call Clearance Delivery to get your squawk code and departure instructions before calling the ground controller for taxiing.  However, it was a slow day and the ground controller was nice and got that clearance and departure instructions for us.

The wind had shifted and we left from runway 31, being cautious after hearing earlier pilot reports of tailwinds between 200 and 1000 ft from the ground controller.  We took off, and as I said earlier, Runway 13-31 is tremendous.  I had never taken off in a Cessna on a runway that long!

The entire time we were in the air I was helping Matt look for traffic, but shortly after taking off I couldn’t resist snapping a few photos.

Aerial view of Atlantic City.

Aerial view of Atlantic City.

Long beach island from the air.

Long Beach Island from the air.

My friend Matt.

Matt, this voyage’s pilot-in-command.  He finally had a chance to use his iPad with Foreflight as an alternate GPS.

We flew the reverse of the route we flew down to Atlantic City to get back to Linden, and we clocked 57 minutes from the time we got takeoff clearance to touchdown.

This was an easy flight to fly via pilotage and would be a great flight to do when I get to the point in my training where I fly my cross-country!

My friend Jeff’s first flight lesson!

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

My friend Matt was the one who finally pushed me to work to get my private pilot license, and without him it would still just be a lingering dream on the backburner for me.

Matt and I have a coworker, Jeff, whose wife bought him an introductory flight at a school in Connecticut a while back and he had yet to take it.  With Matt and I talking about flying all the time in the office, he was finally spurred to schedule his lesson.  He went yesterday and the weather couldn’t have been better.  Congrats to Jeff on his first flight lesson!  Before long we’ll have an entire office of pilots…

Jeff's first flight in a Grumman AA-5.

Jeff’s first flight in a Grumman AA-5.

Flight 10: Basic maneuvers and landings (5/17/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

After 4 canceled lessons over the last 2 weeks, today I was finally able to fly.  The day brought with it clear skies and calm winds.  If you schedule enough flight lessons, one of them is bound to have great weather!

I drove out to Caldwell and got there at 7:45am and I preflighted the plane before Tomoharu got there at 8am so that we’d be ready to roll when he showed up.  When he arrived we hopped right in and got down to business.

After taking off and flying to the practice area, we did some basic maneuvers.

  • Slow flight.  I like to fly my slow flight as slowly as I can.  At times I was flying at 40 knots, but I like to keep it around 45 knots so that I have some buffer before hitting the stall speed.  I climbed 100 feet during the maneuver (which of course I shouldn’t have, I was too focused on my airspeed and wasn’t watching my altimeter), suggesting I could have eased up on the throttle.
  • Power on stalls.  I told Tom how my power on stalls were poor when I flew with Tom Fischer because they ended up as spins instead of stalls.  So we went over them again and I made sure to let the speed slowly bleed off before pitching for the stall.  Things went a lot better this time (i.e. I entered a stall instead of a spin), though I forgot to hold right rudder (since in that situation you’re moving slowly while the engine is at full throttle) and had to be cued to do that.
  • Steep turns.  I mentioned how Tom taught me to do steep turns without the trim tab, and his cue to keep the horizon on the same spot on the cowl during the turn.  This is probably the best steep turn cue I’ve ever gotten, and I was able to do steep turns with ease.  The worst part of my steep turns at this point is that my initial 45 degree bank will slowly become less steep if I’m not paying active attention to my bank angle.  I can pretty easily hold altitude and come out on the correct heading.

After that we went to Orange County airport (MGJ), and rather than Tom saying “turn X heading to get there” he told me to pull out the sectional chart and find my way there.  I got to do some navigating!

It was a great day for flying, and to be expected there were a lot of people flying out of and into the airport.  At times we had to extend portions of our pattern to put space between us and other traffic, and we had to do a lot of traffic-sighting to stay aware.

For the first two landings I turned onto final and found myself too high, so I went around.  I did three landings after that.  A common thing that I do wrong when I hear the main wheels touch the ground is that I relax back pressure and the nosewheel hits the ground abruptly.  Tom said that my landings were pretty good (compared to my previous landings–which I’d describe as “rough”) and that with only a few minor corrections they could become great landings.  As far as I could tell, Tom wasn’t helping control at all and was only giving me verbal cues.

Here are some of the mistakes I still make while landing:

  • Forgetting to throw in flaps on the base leg.
  • Not descending during the descent stage of the landing.  As a corollary, rolling out of the turn onto final approach too high.  When I’m high, Tom will say “you can pull the power to idle since you’re too high” but I don’t yet have confidence I’d make the runway from as far out as he tells me to do that.
  • At times descending too quickly (i.e. > 500 feet per minute).
  • Flying too wide or narrow of a traffic pattern.  I have a tendency to turn downwind too late or crab in towards the runway on the downwind, shortening my base leg.
  • Coming in straight for a landing but being off the centerline.
  • Not holding back pressure after wheels touch down.

I was surprised my landings went so well after not flying for 2 weeks.  I felt more relaxed and more aware, even though as I said it looked like Tom wasn’t holding the yoke at all.  I find that sometimes I actually dream about flying and flight lessons, so maybe that was some “extra practice time” or perhaps my mind finally reconciling new information I’m trying to learn.  It’s akin to periodically taking a week off from exercising to come back stronger and well-rested.

Soon enough it was time to head back to Caldwell.  My landing at Caldwell was good as well, and after that we secured the plane and another lesson was in the books!

Logbook Entry N811JD (C172)

Flight Details

Slow flight, stalls, steep turns, landings at MGJ
1.6

Landings

Obama cancels my flight lesson… again! (5/14/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

I had a flight lesson scheduled for today at 4pm.  The air was warm and the weather was beautiful!  However, Obama decided to grace NYC with his divine presence and shut down the airspace starting right when my lesson would have began.  My lesson got moved to tomorrow though it will likely rain.

Yet again, no flight training within the vicinity of the New York Bravo airspace.

Yet again, no flight training within the vicinity of the New York Bravo airspace.

Good thing Obama can’t run for re-election because at this rate he isn’t winning my vote.

Flight 9: Basic maneuvers with Tom Fischer (5/2/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

I took the entire week off this week and had a “staycation” with the intent of flying as much as possible.  Unfortunately the weather was bad almost all week and Tomoharu needed to travel to Europe for business on Friday.  Since the weather was finally clearing up, even though Tomoharu was gone I wanted to still get some flying in.  What better time than to get a flight in with Tom Fischer, who owns the flight school!  It would be interesting to get the perspective of a different instructor.

During the flight we reviewed basic maneuvers:

  • Slow flight.  I killed this and was able to enter slow flight and fly with the stall horn buzzing while turning to various headings.  I was flying so slowly I was ready for the plane to stall at any moment!
  • Power on stalls.  I was able to enter the maneuver fine, but every time I got the airplane to stall it would go straight into a spin.  Of course, “ain’t nobody got time for that”–apply rudder opposite the direction of the spin and then level the aircraft.  Tom thinks that the reason this would happen is that I wouldn’t let the speed bleed off before pitching for the stall.  I would go straight into a critical angle of attack and keep pulling back until I stalled, meaning that I was stalling at a much higher angle of attack than necessary and thus it was easier to cause a spin.
  • Steep turns.  I did these satisfactorily by using the “two turns of the trim wheel” technique.  After that, Tom asked “so try it now without the trim wheel.”  I had no idea how to do it, so Tom showed me–keep the horizon on a specific part of the dashboard at all times.  It’s that easy!

There were a few other highlights to the lesson:

  • Looking for traffic.  I was a champ at this.  Normally I’m like “hmm, I don’t see it…” but there were three different traffic calls I had to look for and I found all of them–and even handled the ATC communications for them.  Tom tuned us into the NY approach frequency and we heard them talking about us being at the 2 o’clock of an incoming aircraft.  I spotted him and Tom took over and we climbed 1000 feet.  As we watched him pass underneath us, it was clear that we would have come close to colliding with him if both of us just stayed straight-and-level on our paths.  The big sky theory would have you believe that potential collisions are a rare incident, but considering that on my 9th lesson I came into this sort of situation shows you that the sky may not be so big after all, especially around busy airports!
  • Silly (read: stupid) mistake.  When you’re working with an instructor you want to impress and try your best, but sometimes that desire to impress takes too much control and makes you do stupid things.  When we finally taxiied back and it was time to shut off the engine, I couldn’t find on the checklist where the engine shutdown procedure was.  In a rush to not sit there staring at a checklist like a bumbling idiot, I knew what I needed to do–pull the mixture to full lean and throttle to idle–but wait!  I forgot to switch off the avionics before shutting down the engine, and Tom made sure I knew that.  This is the sort of stupid mistake that I need to stop myself from making in the future and I will definitely be on the lookout to safeguard myself against it and to be more authoritative as pilot in command.  I need to stop worrying about what my instructor thinks of me and focus on performing my duties as a pilot safely!  First and foremost, that includes not skipping checklists.  I’m ashamed I made such an elementary mistake, but it’s better I did now than alone without an instructor to correct me.

Overall the flight was a lot of fun, and Tom Fischer has a notably different teaching style than Tomoharu.  There are two main differences:

Tomoharu

  • Talks through things as you’re doing them.
  • Preemptively guides you to act.  If we need to descend to stay below a shelf of Bravo airspace or need to get the weather before landing, he’ll call it out in advance.

Tom Fischer

  • Talks very little.  This was weird to get used to, since Tomoharu is the opposite.  Jodi in the office (Tom’s wife) warned me of this.
  • Observes you and lets you act, likely to see how you respond in certain situations.  He doesn’t tell me “descend so you stay clear of the Bravo” or “you should probably get the weather now,” he just watches me to see if I do it.

It seems from his teaching style that Tom Fischer has much more experience flying with students than Tomoharu.  Tom Fischer’s observation and silence takes balls when you’re flying with a student for the first time.  However, it lets him deduce your strengths and weaknesses from your actions, and regardless he seems to have developed a keen intuition into reading what students are thinking.

One thing I realized is that it is valuable to have both styles of instruction.  Tomoharu’s style of teaching is great because he is quick to point out things to help you learn, and that atmosphere might make you feel more comfortable asking questions.  Also, I’m a “learn by example” kind of guy so learning via repetition and seeing how Tomoharu does things help me better understand how I need to do things.

On the other side, Tom Fischer’s style is very helpful because now that you know all this information he shuts up and gives you a chance to be pilot-in-command.  This lesson I felt like I was given more responsibility than I have been given in any previous lesson.  I climbed when I wanted to what altitude I wanted, turned when I wanted, navigated us to the practice area, navigated us back via pilotage to the airport, stayed clear of the Bravo airspace on my own, and did 90% of talking to ATC (he only stepped in when Tower asked us if we wanted to land on a different runway because of wind conditions).  Both styles of teaching complement each other;  I couldn’t have flown with such authority with Tom Fischer had I not been endowed with Tomoharu’s knowledge.

I didn’t realize I’d uncover so much about teaching styles and how beneficial it is to work with other instructors from time to time from just one lesson with Tom Fischer!

Flight 8: Pattern work (5/1/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

This lesson we did more touch-and-gos in crosswinds.

I did a little better than my last lesson, but the wind made it a challenge.  There was less gusting and more of a consistent, strong wind, and on the first landing I had to get used to crabbing into the wind.  Academically I know why I need to crab into the wind, but when you’re in a plane it feels disorienting to be pointed ~15 degrees away from the runway centerline (into the wind) and see yourself still tracking the ground in a straight line.

Another result of the wind was that on my first few base-to-final turns I overshot the runway because I didn’t account for wind.  When I began turning earlier I was able to come out mostly lined up.

Tom mentioned that, paradoxically, being more relaxed during landing would help me get better.  He jests that I have a “vulcan death grip” on the yoke, and we practiced rolling into turns and gentle descents and climbs to show how “gentle” you can be while still controlling the aircraft.  Since you have less fine motor control when you’re gripping the yoke for dear life, your control motions cannot be as fluid as if you had a more relaxed grip.  Additionally, you are more prone to overcorrecting and creating pilot-induced oscillations.

Logbook Entry N811JD (C172)

Flight Details

Pattern work
1.5

Landings

7

Flight 7: Traffic pattern and landings (4/25/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

Today we had direct crosswinds and we got knocked around a bit.  This was my first day of “pattern work,” which is simply flying around the traffic pattern over and over again practicing takeoffs and landings.  When talking to ATC you tell them you want “closed traffic,” meaning that you are just going to stay in the pattern.  

There were some fairly strong gusts, and my first landing was pretty shoddy–a combination of strong winds, a gust, and a lack of directional control meant that we almost veered off the runway after landing!

Another highlight was being too low on one of the approaches–4 red lights on the VASI.  There’s a saying: “4 red, you’re dead.”  Not already dead, but a way of saying you are too low on approach and need a correction (such as adding power) to ensure you don’t make premature contact with the ground.

Two of the landings I decided to do a go-around.  On one I was too high, and on another I just didn’t have good control of the airplane and couldn’t stay aligned with the runway centerline.

My takeoffs got a lot better after Tom cued me to add more right rudder as we got closer to takeoff speed.  Without it, we were being blown to the side and almost heading down the runway at a slight angle, causing an odd sensation (and able to tell something was noticeably wrong) with the wheels slightly skipping.

Overall, I saw some noticeable improvement in my landing ability over the course of the lesson.  Although I had intuited it before, I am now able to see that getting good at landing is simply a matter of a lot of time and practice.  You may hear advice to get to your solo in as few hours as possible, but at this point I am able to appreciate that it will happen when it happens.  Everyone learns at different rates, and you’ll solo when both you and your instructor feel you’re ready–regardless of the hours.  Worrying about hours simply takes mental capacity away from what you set out to do in the first place: learn to fly and enjoy doing it!

Logbook Entry N5253R (C172)

Flight Details

Pattern work
1.4

Landings

8

Nosewheel steering

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

Some airplanes (such as the Cessna 172s I fly in) have a steerable nosewheel.  That is, they have a mechanical link between the rudder pedals and the nosewheel allowing you to turn the nosewheel when you press the rudder pedals.  It’s primarily this, and not the rudder control surfaces, that allow you to turn when you press the rudder pedals while taxiing.

I feel silly for not knowing this!

Flight 6: Traffic pattern work and power curve mistakes (4/19/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

Today was a day of relatively high crosswinds which made things challenging.

We practiced slow flight and some power on/off stalls.  My stalls were “up to PTS” (Practical Test Standards) according to Tom, but my slow flight was pretty terrible–for some reason I thought that I had to hold power at 1900 during slow flight, and didn’t realize that I’d have to add power as I got closer to slower speeds in order to maintain altitude.  I was dropping altitude even though I had nailed the airspeed, and was perplexed as to why.  Even though I’ve read about the power curve, I failed to recognize it applied here and that’s what caused my issue.  Tom said to maintain slow flight without descending, you’ll probably end up with the engine at around 2250 RPM.

After that we did some more steep turns, and they too were in my opinion sub-par–although we ended up at the altitude we started at, we lost about 150 feet throughout the turn before ascending again.  It’s likely just a factor of practicing them, and for now it’s definitely something I could use some work on.

Then we turned towards Orange County (MGJ) and did a few touch-and-gos in the pattern for Runway 3.  There was a significant crosswind on this runway.  I think we had one go-around, and then 3 or 4 landings.  My first landing I rolled out too far before taking off again and we had to do a full-stop.  During the other landings I was getting blown around a little bit.

One mistake that I made was not fully putting up the flaps before taking off on the touch-and-go landing.  I need to fully retract flaps and visually verify that they are up before adding full power and removing carb heat.  I was rushing the process (with my experience I don’t have a good gauge of how much runway room I have) to ensure I could get back into the air with runway room to spare.

The biggest problem I had during these landings was not adjusting the power adequately after adding flaps.  Sometimes I would find myself at 1300-1500 RPM after adding full flaps, having never adjusted the power after each increment of flaps.  Again, this is a mistake related to not understanding the application of the power curve.  When noticing I was sinking too quickly, I’d add power but also pull back a little too much on the yoke and come in too slowly (and thus have little margin between my airspeed and the stall speed).

Tom’s main advice was to pitch for airspeed (aim for an approach speed around 75-80 MPH or 65-70 knots) and use throttle to control altitude.  If I was going to undershoot the runway, add power; if overshooting, reduce power.  Through either of these scenarios, pitch the nose to keep airspeed at approach speed (65 knots).  Today, even though I added power when I noticed we were descending too quickly, I primarily tried to extend the glide by pulling back on the nose–which is dangerous!  Despite learning about power off stalls and how critical it is to avoid them at low altitudes, it’s natural to want to extend the glide to the runway on final by pulling back on the yoke.  I was making this undeniably dangerous mistake, and now I know more concretely what I need to do to correct it.  In a sense, it’s good that I’ve made this mistake during training because now I know: I want to avoid managing altitude via the elevators during landing; that I have a greater tendency to make this mistake than I may realize; and how to correct that tendency–by changing how I mentally approach airspeed and altitude management during the landing procedure.  Again–it comes back to being behind the power curve.

Afterwards, Tom and I debriefed.  I knew my flying that day was sub-par, and Tom noted that it was a challenging day with the winds and that–while nothing I did was explicitly dangerous–I was flying in a manner that left very little margin for error.  I think this was his way of saying he got a little nervous at times without trying to dishearten me, but after making mistakes that border on dangerous I am able to take the criticism.  I believe safety is the most important aspect of being a pilot, and I put the ego aside and take any safety-related feedback very seriously.

It was a long and exhausting day of flying.  To end the day on a comical note, Tom mentioned that maybe the reason I’m struggling a bit is because I can’t fully reach the rudder pedals and thus can’t deflect the rudder to its limits.  After he said that, I thought about it and it might indeed be the case–while taxiing I have to rely on braking a lot more than I’ve always thought I should because I couldn’t fully deflect the rudders during a turn.  I’d always have to stretch out under my seatbelt to try to squeeze a little more rudder.  He mentioned that I should try using a “cushion” next time to put me more forward in the seat–and I’ll be bringing a pillow to the next flight to see if that’ll help!

One final note: AOPA is a fantastic organization with huge amounts of quality information.  Become a member if you haven’t already–there’s even a discount for student members and it will save you $10 on your written test fee!

Further Reading:
Behind the Power Curve (includes a great analogy of the power curve to other areas of life)
AOPA: Slow Down

Logbook Entry N5253R (C172)

Flight Details

Traffic pattern/landings at MGJ
2.4

Landings